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By The Numbers: Ageism In Hip-Hop Doesn't Exist

The argument that rappers must lose relevance after a certain age is as old as hip-hop itself, and artists like Rakim, 50 Cent, LL Cool J, M...

Best Coast - The Only Place

I still firmly believe that Best Coast recorded all their music in 1967 and have only just stopped surfing long enough to start releasing it. I remember hearing Boyfriend in late December 2010, and at the time I was driving along the NSW South Coast, it was sunny, the temperature was perfect and I had two surf boards on the roof awaiting action. It just seemed to fit. The music was about unrequited youthful lust. It wasn’t love, Bethany hadn’t progressed that far in her emotional development yet even if she professed the experience. I wished they’d stopped surfing around 2003 when I was going through my teenage awkwardness, because I think these lyrics would’ve fitted.

But this is not about their previous work. The Only Place was released in 2012, nearly 2 years after their debut, but I’m pretty sure all Best Coast did was hang out in high schools talking to spurned teenage girls about lost love. Oh, and hang at the beach. The opening track, The Only Place, immediately relaxes with it’s pop presence and hang your arm out the window vibe. It’s basically a tourism advertisement for California, its beautiful! The lifestyle appeal,
‘We wake up with the sun in our eyes
It’s no surprise that we get so much done
But we always, yes we always, we always have fun’
Before she croons ‘why would you live anywhere else’. Sounds perfect!
It only gets better. Whilst they may not be tackling life’s greatest unfathomables or even attempting to understand anything meaningful at all, Bethany’s lyrics still manage to resonate despite, or maybe because of, their simplicity. On Last Year, a slighly more menacing chord structure gives credence to laissez faire nature of the lyrics,
I just keep on spending my money
One day it will be gone and then I’ll have to write another song
What a year this day has been

Better Girl is slightly more promising in theme, but lyrically it enforces the status quo again here. ‘And it’s no fun when I’m freaking out / and it’s no fun when I’m always down’.
How They Want Me To Be could’ve been written for any number of 20 something girls experiencing the same stunted emotional growth that Bethany seems to be struggling with, ‘Even my own mother asks me a lot of questions / I tell her I don’t wanna talk / But she doesn’t stop, she’s just wondering’
In fact I’m almost certain I saw this exact post on an (ex) friend of mine’s tumblr a few months ago.

Some critics pan efforts like this, but it just makes the music more believable, to a point. You don’t need to be listening to someone throwing a thesaurus at you 24/7, its refreshing to take a less complicated approach, it makes it more impactful if it’s done well. The package has to match the present though, and Best Coast achieve this. I don’t want to draw the comparison with the Ramones, so I’ll just use someone like Beach Fossils or Smith Westerns. You’ve had a hard day at work (or university), you throw it on and don’t think.

But it’s a double edged sword, it’s liberating and limiting. It can grind on you a bit if you’re not in the mood. Let’s Go Home, for example: ‘I see myself at 8 years old/ I’m on the couch but no one’s home / my mom’s not around, my dad’s out of town/ ‘Cause I don’t want to be anywhere else but home. The year 3 rhyming dictionary get’s an epic work out. And the problem is always if, like in the previous lyrical extract, you don’t understand what the hell the singer is talking about, you can’t chalk it up to a ‘higher meaning’ that you’re just not understanding. The words just don’t make sense. Repeating ‘my life’ 8 times at the end of the song entitled my life is maddening on the second or third listen.

Which brings us nicely to the other problem. If you put it on shuffle and you’re not intimately familiar with the album as yet, you can get to the point after 4 or 5 songs when you say ‘is this shuffle working right?’. Because nothing stands out, it just all blends, which is a gift and a curse. On the one hand, put it on and relax for 34 minutes, let it blend in on itself, let it play in the background as you’re cruising surf spots. But that and after a long day of mental servitude are about the only two situations you’re going to be reaching for the Best Coast record. It’s not a third or fourth listen album, it gives all it has up on the first two dates. And no-one marries that girl. You might go through a break up in a year or so and give her a call, see if she will still put out a couple of times, but it’s no long term thing and it never will be. You’ll be at her place one night and it’ll just click all of a sudden: this person annoys me! And that’s where I’ve gotten to in my listening habits for this album. Hopefully in 6 months I’ll be back for another taste but I can’t see myself calling her before then.

Rating: 5/10

Best Tracks: The Only Place, Let’s Go Home, Last Year

From The Vault: Memphis Bleek - M.A.D.E

Memphis Bleek - M.A.D.E.

It can be tricky to be the little brother to someone as talented and popular as Jay Z. It can breed hate, jealousy, resentment. Friendships can burn from it.

Memphis Bleek and Jay-Z have such a connection ever since Jay began his mainstream recording career. Bleek was a mainstay on early Jay-Z releases, and you felt with such guidance and mentoring Bleek was destined to succeed. The clearest indication that he has not been entirely successful came from the Jay himself on a Kanye song, ‘Bleek could be one hit away his whole career, long as I’m alive he’s a millionaire’. And, as of 2012, he is still one hit away. A solid performer who would be pursuing a career elsewhere if he didn’t have to cosign of one of the greatest rappers and businessmen of all time.

So it is with expectancy and hope that you play his first two albums. His delivery is an unchanging, unflinching, energetic sound. He always sounds like he is going somewhere, there's a pent-up energy behind his rhymes dying to get out. He can inject that energy in to a dull track. On "It’s Alright," a cut off the Streets Is Watching OST, Jay-Z raps hard, but sounds like he is just jogging. Memphis Bleek sprints on to the stage, runs around like his head is on fire as he raps his verse, then sprints off. It is an endearing quality, and Bleek hasn't let it yet weary him. On his first two albums he was always in this mode, which is admirable, but you could feel there was another gear, a more introspective and mature artist waiting to get out.

As soon as Coptic’s horns and drums roll in, and Bleek is in his element! He’s not addressing anything new on M.A.D.E. but it's as if the stars are aligning. His flow settles in to a brilliant groove, and he sounds more assured than ever before. Everything’s A Go takes it to 11. As usual, is there anything Just Blaze can’t do? Boring, he can’t do boring. It’s an adrenalin shot this track. The chorus is killer, and then he just dismisses everyone else: "I’m in the class, all by myself/ Now you haters wanna crowd my space/ Hundred grand all in your face, motherfucker better fix ya face/ For they butterfly-stich ya face." Jay-Z wanders in for a lazy 6 bars that ooze confidence and wealth, and as a listener you're just one-two’d and  wondering where this album is going to go next. It's 80 minutes you can’t handle an adrenalin shot for that long. So instead Bleek changes tack straight up and just settles in. "Round Here" is another Just Blaze track, it bangs with a dirty south Bay Area feel. T.I. provides the perfect foil for Bleek with his southern drawl. "We Ballin’" is another banger, then "War" produced by Just Blaze again gets your heart rate up. The whole album just flows on, and every time you feel like you’ve had quite enough of Bleek for the moment a guest pops up, usually Jay-Z or Beanie Sigel, and distracts you, refreshes you, and readies you for another onslaught of the main event.

The shining light of lyrical content on this album comes from the track "My Life." On it, Bleek changes tune a little from the sports cars, beautiful women and expensive alcohol imagery that litters his back catalogue to address his actual history, his experiences outside of the lifestyle. It’s a welcome song, the best track on the album. Still gully, still hard, its autobiographical. "It was just yesterday, moms waitin on the stamps / The spot got shot up, and Dre still locked up / It’s me against the world with no brother, just a revolver / And I ain’t thinkin about seein tomorrow." The way Bleek delivers it is actually quite hypnotic, maybe he should’ve called this track that. It’s the imperfections in his lyrics that make this track work, it’s all in the delivery and the truth.

So we come back full circle to a man with the greatest best friend in the world. And does he resent him, feel even slightly jealous of the success and skill that Jay-Z possesses? Bleek is a humble soul. There's no resentment whatsoever, he is mature and wise beyond his years. Rather than kick back with his hand out, he's constantly investing in new endeavours, including his work with D'Usse and the almost unstoppable Warehouse Music Group, which features work with Casanova and Manolo Rose (as well as my man King A1).

And you know what? Bleek never once sounded entitled on any of his albums. Every record of his stands alone as a high quality solo project, and while 534 might have had more marketing push and a higher production budget, it's M.A.D.E. that may just go down as a hood classic in another 5 years time. Bleek was at the peak of his powers. No longer was he merely Jay Z's protege, he had transformed into the entity that he is today. People aren't booking "Jay Z and Memphis Bleek" shows and interview, podcasts aren't stipulating he has to come in with an entire crew of people, they're requesting Memphis Bleek, dolo. It's a rare person who can play the role Bleek did. Consider how good M.A.D.E. is, it would have gone gold without Roc-A-Fella or Jay Z. But he remained humble, he remained focused, and he created his own name, separate from his God-like brother.

Bobby Womack - The Bravest Man In The Universe

Bobby Womack is a survivor, a relic, a plinth that has weathered a lifetime and a halfs worth of storms. The image that these descriptions conjure up aren’t awlays positive, and in Womacks case that is extremely apt. He’s lived a rockstar life, he exists within that 1% that self-destruction models such as Keith Richards and Jimmy Barnes occupy. The ones that defied the odds and beat their always pursuing bad health to make it in to their 60s and beyond. But so what?

Experience is nothing to the passive observer such as ourselves without a decent medium to interact with, to learn from it. When Gil Scott-Heron released I’m New Here, old and new heads alike wondered aloud ‘where the hell has he been for the last 20 years?!’. Well he spent some time in jail, and spent a lot of time living a hard and difficult life battling demons that we can only dream of. A similar line can be drawn under the recent life of Womack. A man that seemingly never grew out of his addictions as some of his contemporaries did, but who also didn’t die like the majority of his contemporaries.

And so he delivers his possible swan song. Let us hope that he doesn’t travel down the same path as the legendary Gil Scott-Heron who crafted the perfect album in 2010 only to lose his life a year later. Because this album is good, but it isn’t brilliant, and it isn’t Womacks fault. His vocal performance on this record is only limited by the production. When he needs to be pitch perfect he is, when he needs to put a break in his voice he does, when the producer asks him to dial in some emotion he backs a 10 ton truck of it up and dumps it everywhere. The closest album I can think to this in recent times was the awesome Solomon Burke album Don’t Give Up On Me. Two singers very much alike in background and vocal ability, but two very different production teams.

Nuts and bolts. The album opens with the brilliant The Bravest Man In The Universe, and sees Bobby singing not about himself, but it feels more like the man he wishes he was. Rather than a retrospective desire it feels like he’s wanted redemption for more than just the past 5 minutes, he’s sought it for many decades. “The bravest man in the Universe/Is the one who has forgiven first/Yeah/Shame on me, shame on you/It’s up to us/What we say and what we do”

It’s a theme that is hammered home for the rest of the album. He’s lived a sinful existance in the eyes of the holy, in his own eyes. “I could try to say I’m sorry/ But that won’t be quite enough/ To let you know the pain that I feel/ And it just won’t let up” he pleads on Please Forgive My Heart. But you can’t write an entire album in apology. On Stupid, Womack perplexingly takes a swipe at his religion, questioning the motives of the preacher, explaining how his interactions with them have been a negative influence on his state of mind. This point is further rammed home with the interlude that Gil Scott-Heron appears on, being critical of the money-focus of some within the church.

Elsewhere, we see an ill-advised collaboration with the increasingly one-dimensional Lana Del Ray. It sounds like a bit of a masterclass from Albarn and co, but Del Ray just sounds asleep and out of place next to the husky soul growl of Womack. Deep River actually made me think of the stunning On The Cloud Of Unknowing off Plastic Beach. His voice is at its purest on the album, but possibly because of the stripped back production, with just an acoustic guitar the emotion can be expressed in its full glory.

So the production.. Damon Albarn and Richard Russell man the electronics for this release, and it feels like that’s all they did, man the electronics. My biggest problem is the drums. Everytime they appear on the album, which is a lot, they just feel sterile, like drum machine production on a Dr Dre album. They give each track a rhythm that seems to detract from the natural rhythm that Bobby Womacks voice inherently has. Deep River is a perfect example of this, with just an acoustic guitar he creates a song in much the same way Johnny Cash could do, he is a soul master so as always the rhythm is in the voice. I can’t even help but think that Womack would’ve been more at home singing over the top of Dr Dee, Albarns last album. It’s a pity because it could’ve been something epic this album with the right production team, I’m as surprised as most that Albarn missed the mark because he is usually a genius behind the boards.

So a solid effort, a good effort considering the difficult task faced by all to make this record come together. Womack, hopefully, will be back again, because we don’t want this to be the last of him. 6/10

Beach House - Bloom

Beach House reside in that special corner of consciousness also inhabited by Sigur Ros. It’s the moment after you’ve gone to bed, before you fall asleep, when you are still awake but already beginning a dream. A lucid reality of pure relaxation. Sigur Ros have been doing it perfectly for years. Beach House had the ability, the potential to make an album full of this feeling. Norway was more heart rate raising than anything on this album, but it was their best offering yet.
I read the pitchfork review and their feeling was that Bloom was not a reflection of where the band is at now. I disagree, I think their previous work was solid without being spectacular. This album feels like a band reaching through the ground and the dirt and the nutrients and pushing through the earth in to the sun. They are blooming!

I don’t want to get in to the airy fairy crap that other people do when they review a record so lets just look at the music. Myth starts off with a cowbell I could’ve created in Fruity Loops, but then just explodes. All of a sudden you’re still here but you’re not anymore, you’re in this giant green field that Beach House have created exclusively for its listeners. Valium, Xanax, all manner of anti-anxiety medications are available in plentiful amounts. The smokey vocals Victoria Legrand don’t even need to be intelligible, it’s like this beautiful warm cloud descending over the field. However by the 40th listen which is where I’m up to you eventually break out of the perma-haze and start listening to the words.
What comes after this
Momentary bliss
The consequence
Of what you do to me
Could be a listener describing Victoria. Each track reads like a therapy session. On Wild, Victoria muses

My mother said to me that I would in trouble
Our father won’t come home, cause he is seeing double

Then she prescribes our medicine and all is right

A little wine, you stole a smile, the earth is wild, you’ve got no time
It’s all delivered with the ease and grace of an Egret wading through water. It’s perfection. The album just keeps prancing along through the heavens. Guitars come and go, church-like synths set the atmosphere for every track. The Hours see’s a rain-drop like synth appear halfway through, and you fall asleep for a second. Till Victoria repeats frightened eyes, and this track could very well be about anxiety.

Frigthened eyes, looking back at me, Change your mind, don’t care about me
But she reassures us that there’s no point worrying about all this, because
It’d deeper than you and me, It’s further than you could see, It’s too much to ask tell me, It’s all in a glance you’ll see.

Time is a constant theme, rather than just touching on it the band centre around it, coming back and refilling our cup every few minutes. The funny thing is that thsi fixation on time does not make us more aware of it. You can easily lose yourself for all 50 minutes and wake up at the end and wonder where it all went. As is with the perfect drug trip, time is just a number that can be thought about, poked at, explored, but never felt until the comedown.

The album continues to meandre along till the absolutely brilliant closer Irene. You’re transported on to an actual beach house as the opening synth washes over you, and the vocals descend slowly from the clouds on top of you until all of it combines, and you’re riding the crest all the way in to the bank. Halfway through the wave peters out, you slide gracefully back to your knees and await the next installment. The final ride is a cymbal bashing affair that feels like the up phase of a rollercoaster, but rather than flying back down the hill you just keep flying up it, faster and faster until you’re propelled back in to reality with the end of the album.

I don’t have enough of a way with words to be honest to do this album justice. When I first listened to it I knew it was something a little bit special. I liked previous Beach House releases but I wasn’t sold on them. Dream Pop for me was a bit of a wank that hipsters used to describe normal music they relaxed to, and I didn’t like that. But I think it was a natural progression, as electronic music became more prevalent in the late 90s up until its world domination today, that bands would keep evolving its sound until we got an album like this. If I were to compare it to anything I’d compare it amazingly to the latest Slugabed album, which was just pure electro. The first 4 tracks on Madonna’s Confessions on a Dancefloor left me with the same feeling. It’s this wonderful ability that electronic music has to very quickly create an atmosphere and an alternate reality and then transport you there and keep you there for an entire record. The big cymbals crashing at the end of Irene even give you the sense that you’ve achieved something during this listen, and that it’s all about to come to a stark end and you’ll be catapulted back in to real life. The beauty of it is, you just double click on Myth and you’re right back where you started.

Hot Chip - In Our Heads

More than anything else I wanted to love this album. In the weeks leading up to its release I spent precious seconds tweeting about my excitement, I overplayed all their old records and marked the date firmly in my calendar in brightly coloured pen. When the time came, I was camping, and had to wait till I got back. Finally I sat down, smelling of bush smoke, soaked the bone and exhausted, and threw it on. And cried a little. Because for me, it took a listen or two. Once I’d gotten over the initial shock and perservered through my third listen then whole album just came together in a way I had no idea was possible.

I will qualify this review by saying that I am a massive Hot Chip fan. I’ve seen them twice, and live they are one of the best bands I’ve ever had the pleasure to take in. Made In The Dark was my breakthrough record, I listened to it running, riding, working, driving, gaming. I even bought tickets with a girlfriend who I subsequently split from who wouldn’t give me the other ticket back. So I went to the show with her and despite her crying and abusing me the entire night I had an awesome time.

So where does this record sit in the Hot Chip collection? Initially, it feels like a sonic backwards step. One Life Stand felt more advanced, it felt like they’d applied Boards Of Canada levels of effort to the production, yet in an effortless way. So In Our Heads feels a little underdone, a little like they went in to the studio and were slightly stifled creatively for whatever reason. Don’t Deny Your Heart is pure 70s dance, Look At Where We Are could’ve been taken straight off The Warning with that funk guitar, and How Do You Do starts with a simple bass line and drums that only get more simple.
The record then explodes in to life. These Chains catch your ear, the synths pull you in and by the time Night And Day starts you’re back on track. There has been some criticism of Night And Day as a single but I think its perfect, it feels like Hot Chip start you off on a treadmill and gradually increase the speed as the track goes on. Flutes is the pick of the album though. The start just gives you that marching band feeling, then once the bass synth comes in it feels exactly like No Fit State, a previous classic. It builds and builds in the way only Hot Chip know how to do, and you know you’re in for a synth explosion at some point that will have you reaching desperately for the volume knob to turn it all the way up to 11.

Now There Is Nothing is a rollercoaster of a track, you feel like you’re heading up the hill but when you get to the top it’s just a calming plateau. Lyrically, Alexis Taylor continues to grow. On One Life Stand you felt a sort of happiness for him, for the way he viewed love and life. On In Our Heads he goes further and makes you feel happy in general. I think lyrically this is an even stronger effort than One Life Stand which is an incredible effort.

My rating 8.5/10. Awesome new album I suggest everyone goes out and gets it!

The Shins - Port Of Morrow

If James Mercer came up to me and pitched a punch in the face for 16 dollars, I wouldn’t trust myself to say no. I would also back him to set up quite a successful surf store in Broken Hill. Because with this album he has done the impossible to me, and thats make me fall in love with him. And he is an artist that I don’t want to like. It’s similar to the teenage girl falling in love with the 21 year old ex-con with tattoos and another girls juice on his breath. She hates him, her parents hate him, but she is magnetically drawn in.

When Port Of Morrow was released I thought, meh. I’ll give it a listen, see if it’s anything ground breaking. I’d read a few interviews with the main man already and was very skeptical. He fired his band and kept the name that they’d all help build and create. So rather than start anew he just piggy backed on The Shins name. Not off to a good start.

Then I popped the album on repeat and started work. Ten minutes in I was in agony, I loved the album despite my dislike of the man and his previous work. By the end of the 41st minute I was a changed man. The Rifle’s Spiral starts you on a pop journey you can’t stop. It’s beauty! The lyrics are so simple, so life-like, so accessible yet perfect. Simple Song is just an orgasm, plain and simple. Layer upon layer of guitar, and Mercer’s unique ability to sound like The Darkness whilst talking directly to the 20 somethings who worship him. Fall of ‘82 would have been perfect when I was 15. The abrupt ending of it just appeals even more, there is no resolution. ‘Mum I lost my sweet tooth, what’s the point of going round’. No chintzy it all worked out in the end crap. For A Fool rings truer than anything else on the album, Mercer reminiscing of a time he was exposed, but rather than glossing over it he lets us in on the lesson he taught himself from it. On It’s Only Life I even felt connected with him for a moment,
I’ve been down the very road you’re walking now
It doesn’t have to be so dark and lonesome
It takes a while but we can figure this thing out
And turn it back around

I don’t want to sounds chintzy myself but at times his lyrics slip over you in a comforting way, like the second blanket on a cold night. You say to yourself this man is 42 years old, I’m sure he’s been there and seen it all and now he is going back down the line and imparting his own brand of wisdom. September shows us we can triumph even despite our flaws, not to question ourselves and be constantly critical. No Way Down: ‘What have we done? How’d we get so far from the sun?’ It reads like a 23 year olds diary! It reads like my freaking diary!

And of course the entire album is tied together by acoustic guitar, which is normally the anti-thesis to high end pop production such as on Simple Song or The Rifle’s Spiral. Somehow Mercer just keeps bringing his guitar right back out to the front of the band, like a wiley old boxer who keeps getting back up after every knockdown to throw more skillful and precise punches. And he lands every single one!

The amazing thing is that Mercer is over 40. He sounds like the most keyed in 21 year old I’ve ever heard. Previous Shins’ work has helped people on the wrong side of 30 regather the pieces of their youth and put it all back together posthumously. Port Of Morrow foregoes any of that. Rather than it feeling like Mercer is reminiscing his early days through a telescope, it sounds like he has somehow perfected time travel and landed smack bang in his formative years again and is giving us a blow by blow update. Only the title Fall Of ‘82 gives any hint of a man who has been there but a very very long time ago. Mercer is just as brilliant at spinning his stories as he is at exploiting an entire sub culture and introducing it unwittingly to pop music.

For me, 10/10. Anyone who can turned such a jaded soul as myself in to a true believer deserves a perfect score.

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